Federal safety regulators say they will retain power to approve Boeing 787 airliners for flight rather than return that authority to the aircraft maker, which hasn’t been able to deliver any new Dreamliner planes since last May because of production flaws.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it told Boeing
of its decision Tuesday.
The FAA said that once deliveries of 787s resume, it will perform final inspections and retain power to clear each new plane until it is confident that Boeing’s quality control and manufacturing “consistently produce 787s that meet FAA design standards.” It also said Boeing must have a plan for handling planes that need reworking.
“This will allow the agency to confirm the effectiveness of measures Boeing has undertaken to improve the 787 manufacturing process,” the FAA said in a statement.
For years, the FAA has relied on Boeing employees to certify the airworthiness of planes by deputizing some company employees to act on behalf of the agency. The practice came under intense criticism after two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jets and revelations that FAA officials knew little about a key flight control systems implicated in the crashes.
The 787, a larger plane than the 737, has been plagued by production flaws such as unacceptable gaps between fuselage panels. Deliveries were stopped briefly in late 2020, then again in May 2021 and have not resumed.
Boeing has more than 100 undelivered 787s. The halt in shipments has deprived Chicago-based Boeing Co. of cash that airlines pay when they receive new planes.
Boeing, afraid of appearing to pressure the FAA to resume deliveries, has declined to give investors an idea of when 787 shipments might resume. A spokeswoman said Tuesday, “We will continue to engage with the FAA to ensure we meet their expectations and all applicable requirements.”
Separately, Democrats who lead the House Transportation Committee renewed their criticism of FAA and asked for a federal review of the agency’s oversight of the Boeing 737.
The lawmakers questioned why the FAA did not take action against Boeing for, they said, downplaying the significance of the flight-control system, which repeatedly pushed the nose of the plane down before both crashes. They also suggested that the FAA should have taken action against Boeing for selling 737 Max jets on which a system designed to warn pilots about the failure of key sensors did not work on about 80% of the planes.
Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who leads its aviation subcommittee, said the “blatant lack of enforcement actions” could encourage airplane manufacturers to ignore design standards in future planes. They asked the inspector general of the Transportation Department to review the matter.
Boeing declined to comment on the lawmakers’ request.